Summers are the season of mangoes, the king of fruits according to many, in India. Any mention of mango grove invokes memories of a childhood spent plucking raw mangoes and climbing trees. But, to the people of Arrah in Bihar mango grove represents the patriotic zeal of Indians, displayed in 1857.
26 July, 1857, Indian sepoys at Danapur revolted against the British setting out for Arrah to join forces of Kunvar Singh. On 27 July, they crossed river Son to enter Arrah, where Indians were released from the jail and treasury taken under the Indian control. After this the next goal was to take control of British collectorate, which had already been shifted to a makeshift fortified two storeyed house. A total of fifteen Europeans including District Magistrate, one Indian and fifty Sikh soldiers were in the house when on 28 July, 2,000 sepoys and 7000 – 8000 Kunvar Singh’s men laid siege to the house.
Soon, news reached Patna and Danapur, where the British decided to send an army in order to secure these Europeans in Arrah. An army of 415, including 70 Sikhs and 345 British, raised from His Majesty’s 37th and 7th NI under the command of Captain Dunbar was sailed off for Arrah through steamers. This army also included Magistrate of Chapra, McDonell, who was a friend of Wake, Magistrate of Arrah, and later survived to write the account of this expedition.
The army disembarked from the steamer at 2 o’clock in the afternoon of 29 July. After advancing a few miles they had to cross another rivulet with boats. At this rivulet, Indians halted the British advance and armed clashes happened. But, the army succeeded in crossing the rivulet and started a march towards Arrah.
It was at 11 o’clock at night. The British army was within a mile of the fortified house where Kunvar Singh’s forces and sepoys were laying the siege on Europeans. In the darkness of the night, they happened to cross a mango grove when suddenly gunfire from all directions surprised them. The fact that the British wore white clothes at night did not help them much, as they were easily spotted and shot at. In panic the British started firing indiscriminately in all directions killing their own people. In this classic example of guerilla warfare commander of the British force, Captain Dunbar, was the first to fall.
The mango grove, which bore sweet mangoes, was turned into a graveyard of the British army. Those who could save their lives ran back towards the river Son leaving the wounded and dead behind. Several died while trying to cross the rivulet.
Next day, on 30 July, the steamer reached Danapur with only 150 out of 415 who originally started for the expedition, two days later 30 more survivors reached. Only 50 remained unharmed while others were either killed or wounded.
The mango grove witnessed an unprecedented win of Indians over the British, around 200 soldiers were killed here.
(Author is a well known historian)